UMC celebrates 10th annual Bethlehem event



It takes a lot to recreate Bethlehem, the birth place of Jesus Christ.

You need beggars, bread makers and barn animals. You need basket weavers, wine makers and merchants.

The United Methodist Church of Webster does just that, filling its basement with all the necessary details to resurrect the Nativity in what’s called their Walk Through Bethlehem event.

On Dec. 3, the church celebrated its 10th anniversary in hosting this interactive tour, which guides members of the public through a village of volunteer actors.

Although after the event the log book showed 507 visitor signatures, the event’s goal doesn’t revolve around numbers.

“It’s just that feeling of, this is what Christmas is all about,” said event organizer and church member Mary Bloom. “It takes you away from all the hubbub and shopping and commercialism and gets you into the real spirit.”

Even before you walk into the old brick church, robed shepherds wielding their staffs congregate beside a fire as real-life sheep and goats nibble at the grass from inside their pen.

All the animals are provided by area farmers and families. This year, down in the basement was a small donkey named “Ferg,” along with bunnies, kittens and chickens, said Bloom.

Volunteers try to make it as real as possible.

“Especially with the donkey; just feeling like Mary came in on the donkey, and it just adds some different life to it,” said Bloom. “We’re trying to make it feel as authentic as we can.”

This is why plenty of people signed up to volunteer.

“It takes a village,” said Bloom.

It also takes plenty of preparation time. According to Bloom, the Walk Through Bethlehem committee meets every month leading up to the event. And sometimes, the meetings run late.

“When you get a group of people together and you’re having fun, it might linger on a little longer than it needs to,” said Bloom.

But it’s well worth it. Aside from the animals and actors outside the church, once visitors walk in, musicians fill the open spaces with hymns. Guests are then greeted with the Hebrew salutation “Shalom,” and are given fake gold coins to spend in the Bethlehem recreation.

At one point, Bloom recalled, one visitor answered back in full Hebrew sentences after one host greeted him.

“It kind of took her back,” Bloom joked.

Once downstairs, a beggar pleads to visitors to give him gold. There, visitors encounter the bread maker, the tax collector, the merchants and artisans while they inhale the aroma of barn animals. The tour ends with an illuminating birth of Christ scene.

Bloom said visitors included people from Aberdeen, Watertown and Milbank.

“It was amazing how many people commented; faces we have not seen,” she said. “So the word is getting out.”

According to the church’s Bethlehem story, the idea to host the event came from a church group’s trip to Pierre in 2007. It stated that, “They drove to Pierre to see the capitol trees and heritage museum. While they were visiting they saw a sign about the Lutheran Church hosting a Nativity event and went to see it. Many booths were set up representing shopkeepers of Bethlehem in a large room.”

Soon, United Methodist followed suit.

Bloom praised the creative efforts of locals Stacey Dunse and Judy Pesall to get things rolling, saying “They really deserve the kudos. We’re basically copying what they started.”

Chuck and Bondell Aleck were also praised for setting up booths and sending out promotional postcards.

Bloom was asked what she personally thinks of the event.

“I just like it when my grandchild comes up to me and says, ‘Can I help you with Bethlehem?’” she said. “You know you’re getting something across to him. So I think it’s a great event and it means a lot to me.”

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